This bill would allow for the display of the Ten Commandments on state property and at public schools. SB 181 serves no useful purpose and will likely lead to costly litigation.
The proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution, to be voted upon by the electorate, would neither expand nor limit the already existing religious freedoms we enjoy under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and under Alabama’s Religious Freedom Amendment, Ala. Const. art. I, § 3.01. Indeed, it is clear under existing federal and state law that every person is “at liberty to worship according to his or her own conscience; and that no person [may] be compelled to attend or support a place of worship or a minister.”
The bill purports that the amendment “would provide that property belonging to the state may be used to display the Ten Commandments and that the right to display the Ten Commandments on property owned or administrated by a public school or public body is not restrained or abridged.” If enacted, the constitutional amendment would likely cause adverse financial consequences to any state entity or school district that unconstitutionally posts the Ten Commandments. Though the bill requires that “[t]he Ten Commandments shall be displayed in a manner that complies with constitutional requirements …,” what is constitutional is ultimately determined by the courts once a legal challenge is mounted. Thus, permitting the display sets up other governmental entities for costly litigation that can result in awards of attorneys’ fees in the hundreds of thousands of dollars regardless of the prohibition of the use of public funds to defend the constitutionality of the proposed amendment.
This bill has been referred to the Constitution, Ethics, and Elections committee, who gave it a favorable report with a vote of 6-0. It passed in the Senate on February 27, 2018. The bill passed the House State Government Committee by a vote of 9-3 on March 7, 2018. The House passed the proposed Constitutional Amendment with a vote of 66-19. It will now be on the ballot in November for voters to decide.
We have issued a response here: https://www.aclualabama.org/en/press-releases/aclu-al-responds-ten-commandments-bill-passing
Alabama voters to decide on school Ten Commandments displays (AL.com)
Ten Commandments in schools bill passes Alabama House committee (AL.com)
Alabama Senate passes bill allowing Ten Commandments displays (AL.com)
Senate committee approves bill to allow display of Ten Commandments on public property (Alabama Political Reporter)